May 23, 2024 - Culture

How a French Quarter art exhibition solved a portrait mystery

A side-by-side image of a photo of Henry Kraak and his painted portrait.

A portrait of Henry Kraak by artist Newton Reeve, right, and the photo it was based on. Images courtesy of the HNOC

A French Quarter art exhibition featuring portraits of 26 unidentified people is now on view at the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Why it matters: A visitor successfully identified her own family member in one of the portraits.

Context: Portrait artists don't always keep track of who is portrayed in their works, and when the pieces are sold or passed down between generations, that information can seem lost forever.

  • The HNOC's exhibition, "Unknown Sitters," opened April 5 and invites viewers to fill in the gaps of what's known about the people featured in the paintings.
  • But one woman didn't have to use her imagination at all.
A photo of Karen Kraak Wood standing next to a portrait of her grandfather, Henry Kraak.
Karen Kraak Wood visits a portrait of her grandfather, Henry Kraak. Photo courtesy of HNOC

Zoom in: Karen Kraak Wood immediately recognized her grandfather, Henry Kraak, in a painting featured on an HNOC brochure advertising the new exhibit.

  • She reached out to HNOC, according to the museum, and identified the man.

Flashback: Henry Kraak had been born in Germany, but immigrated to the U.S. to work at the St. Louis World's Fair, the museum says.

  • He eventually moved to New Orleans to work for Jax Brewery owner Lawrence Fabacher where local artist Newton Reeve Howard snapped a photo of him.
  • Howard used that photo as the basis for an oil portrait that hung at French Quarter restaurant The Alpine.
  • After The Alpine closed, the portrait ended up at HNOC.

If you go: The HNOC is free to visit.

  • "Unknown Sitters" is on view through Oct. 6.

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